204 N. Washington, Munfordville, KY: The Francis Asberry Smith & Louise Thomas Smith House

Kentucky is full of little towns with only a relative handful of people (who are usually all relatives!), quietly abandoned houses, and a lot of silent, ignored history.

Munfordville, Kentucky, just off I-65, fits the bill.  Most notably in its rich past, Munfordville brought up two boys who would end up generals on opposite sides of the Civil War.

As I was strolling Munfordville in early 2013, I couldn’t help but notice this incredible–and very neglected–old house.

The House

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The sagging porch, the faded grandeur of an age long gone–oh, I had to see more!

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The walking tour and the sign in front identified the home as the Francis Asberry Smith & Louise Thomas Smith House.  The details of its origins were meager, which only served to make it more mysterious.

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The more I saw, the more I was amazed.  The house seemed to never end.  It was certainly one of the largest in-town homes I’ve come across.  And from the broken glass of its front windows to the sidewalk that hugged the south wall to the curiously empty lot next door, it practically oozed a story ripe for the telling–if I could only find it.

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The notice–a small sign posted on the front door–told me what the home had been most recently.  But before this old beauty was an apartment, who had she belonged to?  Who lived here?  Who dreamed her up?

My most immediate source was the walking tour pamphlet that was guiding me through town.  It offered this tidbit:

At the end of the block is the Francis Asberry Smith House.  This beautiful old home was built around 1835, the date impressed on several of the bricks used in construction.

F. A. Smith moved to Munfordville in 1830 and started a general store and later a meat processing plant. During the war, Smith, a staunch Union man, refused to sell any products to the Confederacy. It is unknown as to why they did not confiscate his goods, unless his friendship with Buckner had some influence.

The Smith house was at different times occupied by senior officers of both armies. John Hunt Morgan, the notorious Confederate cavalry leader, occupied the residence briefly in September 1861 while awaiting his original troop of cavalry in the Confederate service.
http://www.munfordvillestories.com/old-munfordville-tour/stop-7-thomas-bolin-munford-house/

Knowing that this home had once hosted Civil War generals made the fact that it looked about to fall into the dust all the more disheartening.  However, as time passed, thoughts of the FA Smith house faded, and it wasn’t until recently that I thought of it again.

Pulling up my trusty Google maps, I decided to cruise downtown Munfordville and see if this ghostly structure was still standing.  Sure enough…

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June of 2013, so sayeth the Google maps copyright date, shows one of the most obvious features of the home in chaos: the front porch, fallen from its perch, now resting on the façade of the home.  Look closely, however, and you’ll notice that this is not the doing of nature, but rather of two men standing to the left of the porch.

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Of course, being the fatalist that I am, I immediately worried that this was part of the demolition until I realized…they wouldn’t send two men to remove the porch if they were bent on destroying the house.

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Well, would you look at that!  Signs of someone cleaning up the place?  It’d be a first in my F&F chronicles that a beaten up and abandoned old home was actually reclaimed and restored, but that’s exactly what it looked like they were up to in June of 2013.

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Old Photos

In the process of researching F. A. Smith for the purpose of a more in-depth history post, I was fortunate enough to come across a historic photo of the house at the following link:

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=23035899&PIpi=56693090

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Yet again, another prime example of the consequences of passing time.  This photo is undated, though the caption at the link above indicates that a photo of the home ran in a Harper’s Ferry newspaper during the time of the Civil War.  (Please note: it is not the opinion of the writer that this was the photo that was used in said article as the apparel of one of the men on the porch and the quality of the photo would suggest a later era).

Of course, finding a photo of that age led me to search for even more photos, and what I found–though much more recent–showed me what used to occupy that mysterious plot next door.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/jstephenconn/3779618474

One of the first “modern” photos I found of the house was the above photo, listed on Flickr.  Taken in 2009, this photos reveals that a very run-down church, complete with boards over the windows and scattering shingles, used to sit next to the Smith House.  Even back in 09, you can still see the sag in the porch roof, but the house appears to be in overall better shape than it was when I found it 4 years later.

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In December of 2010, the house is starting to show signs of wear and tear.  The church next door is still standing, though it appears that debris from the dilapidated church still blows over onto the Smith house and property.
http://landmarkhunter.com/153384-f-smith-house/

http://preservationkentucky.org/home.php
A photo of the house in January 2011, with the nearby church still standing.

In addition to yielding the photo, the landmark hunter link also indicated that the house was placed on the Historic Register in 1980.

Of note in this winding tale of discovery is that several sources for this historic home indicate that the original owner is not known.  Until I discovered the following document, I believed this to be the case.
http://focus.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/NRHP/Text/80001546.pdf

The above document is an NPS “Kentucky Historic Resources” form.  It is dated Jan 23, 1980–just about 6 months before the home was placed on the historic register.  This revealing document details several facts:

  1. According to sources in the area, the original owner was a man named George A. Craddock.
  2. Even according to this revealing document, the builder remains unknown.
  3. Craddock sold the home to Mr. Smith in 1837 when Smith moved to Munfordville from Harper’s Ferry.
  4. The porch was added in the 20th century, proving my assumption (that the photo above was taken in a later era) correct.
  5. Judge McCandless bought the home in the 1920’s, which would indicate that there was a significant gap of time (from 1889, when the Smiths moved to Missouri, to 192?, when McCandless moved in) during which a different, unknown family(ies) likely occupied the house.
  6. Judge McCandless was the owner who added the porch according to this 1980 document, which would put the date of the oldest photo known of the home sometime in the 1920’s or 1930’s.
  7. At the bottom of the document, someone appears to have sketched a layout of the interior of the house, era unknown.  It indicates that the back of the house is an addition

Still wondering about Mr. Smith and Judge McCandless?  Don’t worry.  An in-depth history post with all the details of the known owners is soon to follow.

Present Day

I knew it’s happen sooner or later–one of the questionable old derelicts I’d photograph, document and research would be restored.  And that’s what happened with the F. A. Smith house.

http://hcn.stparchive.com/Archive/HCN/HCN09052013P01.php
Newspaper article detailing renovation plan for the Smith House, 2013.

http://hcn.stparchive.com/Archive/HCN/HCN09052013P05.php
Article page 2.

Incredibly, I saw the home at what was likely the peak of its neglect, just prior to renovation efforts, which turned this historic old home into a physical therapy and wellness office.  The work carried out by the physician who bought the place was so noticeable that he was recognized with an award.

http://preservationkentucky.org/home.php

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Check out the links below to see photos of the house during its renovation and more photos of the house today, serving as the FMC Physical Therapy & Wellness Center!

http://www.munfordvillefmc.com/physical_therapy_wellness_center.html
http://www.munfordvillefmc.com/ptwc_construction_pictures.html

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Fast Backward: Sleettown, KY

For today’s adventure, I’ve chosen to post and write about a past trip out to Perryville Battlefield, upon which I discovered the abandoned remains of Sleettown, KY, which were purchased by the state and are now protected property.  Please note that these photos were taken in February 2013 and are not current photos.

Aside from preserving an impressive and expansive battlefield that was the site of the very conflict that kept Kentucky under Union control and sent the Confederates retreating toward Tennessee never to return, this state historic site also preserves a rarity for the Civil War era: a town borne out of the freedom granted to slaves after the Civil War and populated entirely by free blacks.  Step back with me to 1865 America in the post-Civil War south, won’t you?

The only remaining home in Sleettown, KY.
The only remaining home in Sleettown, KY.
A close-up of this crumbling building.
A close-up of this crumbling building.
View from the right side.
View from the right side.
The back of the building, foundation view.  This building has no basement but is built on the rock pilings that are soon going to give out.
The back of the building, foundation view. This building has no basement but is built on the rock pilings that are soon going to give out.
Back of the structure, right side.
Back of the structure, right side.
View from the right side.
View from the right side.
Up the hill behind the house, an abandoned barn silo and the skeleton of an old barn beg a look-see.
Up the hill behind the house, an abandoned barn silo and the skeleton of an old barn beg a look-see.

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Behind the silo is a covered area with a lot of debris and garbage that looks to be nearly 100 years old.
Behind the silo is a covered area with a lot of debris and garbage that looks to be nearly 100 years old.
Old refrigerator.
Old refrigerator.
Sear's.  Some things last a loooooong time!
Sear’s. Some things last a loooooong time!
View of the silo.
View of the silo.
The remnants of the barn.
The remnants of the barn.

Ready for the background story yet?

Sleettown was originally settled by the descendants of Warner and Olivia Sleet, who were slaves in Boyle County (KY) during the Civil War.  In 1865, their sons, Henry, Preston, and George Sleet, bought the battlefield property from land owner Henry Bottom, who had endured the destruction of the Battle of Perryville and desperately needed the money (this purchase was not recorded until 1880).  The Sleets began to purchase other parcels of land around their original purchase, and soon, along with the Pattersons, Swanns, and other families, Sleettown was born.

Sleettown reportedly had a general store, a restaurant, a cemetery, a church, a one-room schoolhouse, a taxi service, and several homes at its peak, but this is not what made Sleettown notable. Keep in mind that in post-Civil War America, racial segregation was the law of the land–and one that many people saw as too lenient at that.  Yet according to the signs in the state park, the newly-freed black residents of Sleettown lived, worked, and spent their evenings with their neighbors, the white residents of nearby Perryville.  The spirit of community and equality was so unique, I will quote directly from an interpretive sign that stands near the remains pictured above:

In the early 20th century, when most of Kentucky was racially segregated, the relationship with neighboring whites was open and friendly.  A sincere spirit of fellowship existed, where neighbors worked side by side on the farm and in their homes.  Often, blacks and whites would come together in the evenings to visit or play a game of cards, and their children played together.

It is incredible and inspiring to this writer that in an era that was defined by race and separation, these communities managed to overcome their cultural and racial differences and lived an example of equality. As the Sleettown families raised their children and those children left home to make their ways in the world, the population of Sleettown steadily declined until in 1931, the last resident of this remarkable community abandoned the settlement as the Great Depression settled in.  Many of the descendants of Sleettown’s founders and residents now reside in nearby Perryville.

Links to more information:
http://articles.centralkynews.com/2007-09-16/news/24860875_1_descendants-town-site-civil-war-preservation-trust
http://nkaa.uky.edu/record.php?note_id=151
http://www.perryvillebattlefield.org/Noe-battlefield.pdf  (search document for “Sleettown”)

Photos of the interpretive signs referenced above:

Information on Sleettown itself.
Information on Sleettown itself.
More information on Henry and Preston Sleet and their service with the Union Army in the Civil War.
More information on Henry and Preston Sleet and their service with the Union Army in the Civil War.
Information about the Sleet family.
Information about the Sleet family.

West Point Independent Colored School, West Point, Kentucky

It was a dark and chilly afternoon…so it was perfect for a bit of snooping.

Off 31W near West Point, KY, there is a park with a small pavilion and a bridge on the Salt River…and a collapsed building that peeks out of the wintery tangles of shrubs and vines.  It was that location, rumored to have once been a school for African Americans in a post-Civil War Kentucky, that called me out for a walk on a cloudy day.

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Walking up to the building, this was my first introduction to this unfortunate remnant of yester-year.

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This old water pump was sitting inconspicuously nearby in the side yard.

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A close-up of the front door.  Interesting structure as it appears that it had a small inner room just inside the front door, whereas most old schoolhouses I’ve seen are one-room in the most literal sense imaginable.

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Looking to the right of the main door.  The boards appear fairly new on the exterior, which would suggest that it had been renovated–at least on the outside–somewhat recently.

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Looking to the left of the main entrance.

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Close-up of the front steps and the foundation, which appears to be relatively solid in the front of the building.

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At this point, we began to speculate that the building appeared to have fallen into itself–perhaps in one of Kentucky’s infamous windstorms–based on the appearance from the front.

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However, as we walked around the side of the house, we started to see evidence that suggested more than just a pronounced windstorm was the ultimate cause of the building’s demise.  Charred pieces of the roof in the back right corner (as you’re looking at the house from the front) visible even under the shingles suggest that as some point in the building’s history, there was a fire that was largely confined to the top of the structure.  The roof lays directly before you, having fallen somewhat to the right of the house.  Beneath the roof lies a toppled chimney and the associated bricks.

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Looking into the building from the right side and slightly toward the front, this is largely a view of the roof and the interior of the schoolhouse’s front façade.

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Remnants of the chimney under the roof as well as some charred boards and roof struts.

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 The back of the schoolhouse.  A part of the chimney that didn’t collapse and remains upright is visible underneath the ruins toward the center of the photo.

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View of the back of the schoolhouse looking toward the front.  The left exterior of the collapsed building is visible to the right in the photo.  The roof is visible to the left and the front façade that remains somewhat upright is in the background.  Note the two trees that stand like sentries at the fallen entrance, surviving long past the structure they were planted near.

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A close-up of what appears to be electrical wiring near the front door.

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The left side of the building (as it would appear from the front), nicely laid out on the lawn.

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A view of the wreckage from behind, this time a bit further back.

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Interestingly, the front door is still sitting next to the steps, very close to its original post.

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Looking around the side and into the interior of the schoolhouse from the left side.  Original interior boards visible to the right.  It certainly appears from the outside that at least the external portion of the schoolhouse has been reasonably maintained.  Inside…well, not looking quite as cared-for.

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One more shot looking inside from the left.

A quick search on Google would indicate that this post is the first report that this historic structure has finally fallen.  With the way the building’s walls and roof fell, it would be natural to suspect a windstorm as the culprit that ultimately brought about this structure’s demise.  The charred pieces of the roof near the right back side of the schoolhouse bring up questions about the integrity of the structure to begin with, but it would appear that only a very small portion of this building was affected by fire, and it is unlikely that the fire had anything to do with the building’s eventual collapse.

This is quite a unique structure, which, by its very nature, warrants further research.  Keep an eye out for the next installment as I delve into the history of this interesting building!